Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Lisp for the JVM

In the current issue of Toolbox my article »Lisp für die JVM« (Lisp for the JVM) was published. It's about ABCL, the not too old JVM-based Common Lisp. Since I wrote the article, a lot of things happened with ABCL. Now, one can read about first successful experiments to get this Lisp on Googles AppEngine. Also, the core of the system - the compiler - was continuously improved. ABCL is developing from an experimental prototype to a full CL alternative for java based environments.Thats incredible news for me; not only as an author, but also as a software developer.

And Clojure?

If one currently speaks about a Lisp for the JVM, everybody seems to think of Clojure. Ich already have Clojure on my screen and will very likely publish an article about it. Its just that ABCL was the bigger news to me. A practical and full implementation of Common Lisp on the JVM is a great achievement!

I dont' share the view, that a modern new dialect of lisp has to use an existing runtime like the JVM. I'm not even certain, if Rich Hickey actually meant this point as a fortune against Common Lisp. For me, his statement makes only sense if applied to languages like Python or Ruby: Many such scripting languages appeared in the last years; most of them came with their own runtimes. For such languages, defined by ad hoc reference implementations, it probably doesn't make much sense any more to write your own runtime.

JVM is not a USP

Common Lisp got specified independent from a concrete platform. The ANSI standard doesn't try to make the platform fix. So why not develop a Common Lisp for the JVM or the CLR? ABCL proved that it is possible and that the standard works for this task. If I'll write an article about Clojure, a fixation on the JVM or CLR will not be important. It would be more likely counted negatively. Clojure is currently in its design phase to emancipate from its VM. Yes - it was practical and useful, but the JVM is not a USP for Clojure. In an article about Clojure I would like to check what there actually is about all the hype and what actually is innovative about it.

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